So, I guess I am officially a “veteran” in Peace Corps Nicaragua. I’m almost halfway through my service (14 months left!) The new group of Community Health volunteers arrived in the country in January and are in training until they will be sworn-in in April, just as I was.
I have been involved in helping out with some training sessions for the new group and it’s fun to have some new faces in our little Peace Corps community. Last week, for three days I had a trainee visit me in my site. Each trainee was assigned to a different volunteer to see what “real” Peace Corps volunteer life is like. When you’re in training, it sometimes feels like you’re in an isolated bubble with Peace Corps babying you every step of the way. There is little freedom and you often wonder, “What will Peace Corps really be like?” The “volunteer visit” is supposed to help clear up questions trainees have about service and help them visualize volunteer life.
I hosted a girl named Katie. We got along really well – we’re both optimistic and outgoing. I planned a full schedule of events for our days. We had a youth group meeting, did some surveys in the health center, gave a Malaria/Dengue talk to the waiting patients, gave classes in both the elementary and secondary school, gave a training on HIV/AIDS to a pregnant/lactating mothers group, and made soy milk and soy chili from soy beans. Yum!! Here is a photo of our group, my site mate, Kristen, a Small Business volunteer also helped out. They put in a little too much chili powder for these Nicaraguan ladies' mild tastes, but we thought it was great! She also accompanied me to the aerobics class that I teach and sweated along with the ladies and we made some good meals together in my kitchen. It was nice having someone around for a few days and it was fun to introduce her to things in Nicaragua that were completely new to her; new foods, fruits, words, concepts… I didn’t realize how much I had learned until I started sharing with someone who had just arrived in-country. In the past year I have come a long way. I’ve adjusted to all the things that turned me off at first and I have adapted to living in a small town in Nicaragua.
I remember how I was last year on my “volunteer visit” – all wide-eyed and inquisitive. Everything was so new and exciting. I was also super motivated and a little over-eager – that toned down after the first few months. I wanted to be a “super volunteer” – building clinics, single-handedly wiping out AIDS in Nicaragua, eradicating Malaria and malnutrition... After a little while though, reality sets in and you realize that you’re just one person and two years isn’t really that long. There is so much you have to learn in order to be successful; it takes about a year just to be comfortable with your counterpart relationships and how things “work” to actually get real projects started. You’ll also be let down a lot – adjusting to the work style here and the pace of life is a big part of adapting. Accepting the fact that not everyone will love you is also hard. That’s especially relevant in a country like Nicaragua with a rocky past with the U.S.
As this new group of trainees prepares to begin their service in April, the Community Health volunteer group who arrived the year before my group will be leaving. It’s going to be sad to see all those familiar faces leave. I know it won’t be the last time I see many of them – it’s not like we don’t live in the same country – however it will mean that our shared experience of Nicaragua living will come to an end. I’ll especially miss Matt and Jess – a married couple who lived in my departmental capital. I always remember going to their house and being greeted by their huge white dog, Astro (see photo of them and Astro above). They also adopted a cat here and both animals will be going back to the U.S. with them. Matt and Jess both had lots of experience and did some great work in their two years. I really admire them and will miss their advice and their open and friendly personalities. I am often jealous of Peace Corps married couples – they always seem to be doing amazing projects and working together. It makes sense – you have someone to bounce ideas off of and two people are more creative than one. So, bon voyage to “Nica 46” (the outgoing group”) and welcome to “Nica 52” (the newbies)!
The volunteer who visited me, Katie, and I: